Suing file sharers for copyright violations is becoming popular.
Add X-rated film studios to the list of indie movie makers and large music labels that try litigation as an antipiracy measure. Kenneth Ford, a West Virginia attorney, and his company, Adult Copyright Co., have begun to file copyright complaints on behalf of X-rated film studios.
Ford has filed seven suits on behalf of four studios so far and named more than 5,000 defendants. He appears to be following the lead of Thomas Dunlap, co-founder of Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver, a law firm that has undertaken copyright litigation for about a dozen independent film studios.
It's still too early to determine whether the strategy of suing individuals for sharing unauthorized material online will be effective at stopping piracy or be profitable for the attorneys or their clients.
Meanwhile, there is the potential problem of losing control of material. ACS: Law, a British-based law firm that represents the porn sector in copyright cases in the U.K., saw the names of alleged illegal file sharers and the porn-film titles they supposedly downloaded exposed to the Web following a DDoS attack on its site. The British government is investigating.
Closer to home, the music industry abandoned its five-year-long litigation in 2008 after spending millions and after failing to stop or significantly slow the level of piracy.
Ford agreed to a brief interview by CNET about his plans.
Q: Your business model seems very similar to the one employed by Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver, the firm filing copyright cases on behalf of indie studios. Is that where you got the idea? Have you spoken to them? Indie studios don't have to put any money up and Dunlap takes a big percentage of whatever he can get from accused file sharers. Is that your model as well?
Ford: I have reached out to them to discuss what I am doing. While they have been polite and have given me great advice, so far they have politely declined to work directly with me.
Considering you are collecting some highly sensitive data and since a law firm in Britain just lost a whole mess of the same kind of information, can you tell us how you protect your records? Do you encrypt? Have you hired an expert security firm?
Ford: We do the settlements by hand and scan the papers. All that we accept online is credit card information through a third-party processor. So the computer with the information about who downloaded what is not connected to an external source and there is no risk of the information being hacked.
Since we are on the subject, what do you think of what occurred at ACS: Law, the firm in Britain? Have you ever contacted them?
Ford: I do not know them. I have read some of the articles but it does not seem related to what we do here. I don't like to hear about anyone getting hacked.
How many adult film studios do you have as clients?
Ford: Currently 14. I have about 7 more on the way in. My method is the best. I require that films are registered with the Copyright Office, unlike some of the others doing this work. The court I operate in appears strong on protecting rights holders. I think that I have everything in our favor.
Why is the adult film industry employing this tactic of suing individuals now?
Ford: From what I hear they have been doing it for a while, but I suspect that the adult industry saw the idea from the U.S. Copyright Group and how that really slowed down infringement. (Some of them have said this to me and some have been referred to me.)
Illegally downloading porn is potentially a lot more stigmatizing than pirating indie films. Isn't the threat of outing someone's porn preferences at once a benefit and a curse to you. Some people will be afraid of having this kind of info published in a federal lawsuit but others could argue that they are being threatened by you guys. This is sort of what happened with ACS: Law. Are you concerned about the possible backlash?
Ford: I think ACS: Law got into trouble because they did not put their money where their mouth is. They never sued individuals. I will sue individuals and prove the merits of the case. It is the only way to do it.
The adult film industry hasn't had a lot of success in the courts with high-profile copyright cases. "Perfect 10" and a few other big cases jump to mind. Do you think the courts are biased against the porn industry?
Ford: I sure hope not.